Category Archives: Gratitude

Predictable novelty: Why we love fall

I am away on a short vacation – enjoying fall. While I’m travelling, I’m re-posting some content from my previous blog site. Enjoy.

maple-leaf

I love this time of year, when the Earth’s spin and the tilt of the planet carries us into cooler temperatures, shorter days and colourful leaves. And wool socks. And the smoky aroma of logs burning the fireplace. And cinnamon and nutmeg and cloves.

The cooler weather rejuvenates people. The shorter days give us more time to read. Pumpkin Spice Lattes warm chilled hands. (My daughter works at Starbucks, and she spends much of her time these days preparing Pumpkin Spice Lattes. People love them.)

Most of us love these things without understanding why, but scientists have theories about our affinity for fall. Catherine Franssen wrote about it on Huff Post Science.

According to Franssen, we like “predictable novelty.” In other words, fall gives us the two things we crave all in one package: change and stability. It brings change that doesn’t make us anxious, because we know it’s coming. We also associate fall with pleasurable things, like pumpkin pie and walks in fallen leaves. Those pleasurable memories trigger neurotransmitters.

“The neuroscience behind that love is the trifecta of pleasurable neurotransmitters fired: dopamine (pleasure), serotonin (contentment) and norepinephrine (alertness). When all three are going at once, you’re in a heightened state of awareness in a really good way.” —Catherine Franssen

Apparently, many of us float through autumn high on dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine—not to mention cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves—as we eagerly anticipate football victories, Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas parties.

Sounds good to me. I think I’ll have a latte . . . 

Sunrise, moonset

I awoke early on Sunday morning.

Well, I awake early every morning, but on Sunday morning, I decided that an early walk would be nice. I could see the sun rise.

When I walked out my front door, I turned west first. Above me, still high in the brightening sky, was the almost-full moon. I set out to watch the sun rise, but instead I watched the moon set.

A reminder that every end is a beginning, every beginning an end.

Full moon in the morning sky

A post for a WOW friend: The gift of being chosen

Sand castle
A sand castle on Maryanne’s favourite beach: Anna Maria Island

The first time I saw my friend Maryanne, she and her eighteen-month-old son were building houses out of sand in the shade of a play structure in our neighbourhood park. Seated side by side, they packed sand into plastic containers and constructed houses of all shapes and sizes.

I played with my own eighteen-month-old daughter nearby and eavesdropped on their conversation.

“What kind of house do you want to build next?” she asked.

“A bungalow,” her son said.

WOW. What toddler knows the word bungalow? And who was this Wonder Of Women with him?

Over the twenty-three years of our friendship (both those children are now almost twenty-five), I have said WOW about Maryanne many times. She has other exceptional qualities besides an advanced vocabulary and a knack for creative story building.

She celebrated her 60th birthday on the weekend and the occasion caused me to reflect on her WOW qualities.

  • GENEROSITY – I have been at her house to see her open her door wide to people in need. No matter if an arrival is unannounced or if it means re-evaluating food supplies or sleeping arrangements, she accommodates with grace and dignity. It is a gift rarer than the finest diamonds.
  • SELF-WITNESS – She has the ability to rise above herself, look down and sort life out from a higher perspective. This skill has led her to success in business and helped her to overcome tragic loss.
  • INTUITION – She seems to reach through the veil of the universe. She just knows things. Sometimes I have to do a double-take after hearing her insights.
  • LAUGHTER – She is fun. We laugh together a lot.

Her generosity means that saying “No” does not come naturally, but her self-witness is telling her that sometimes that’s exactly what she needs to start saying. She’s learning to listen to her intuition and to choose what serves her and what does not. Which activities, causes or people should she say no to because they drain her without ever giving back? Which activities, causes or people energize her or bring her laughter?

Maryanne and I during a night of smiles and laughter

Maryanne is ever-evolving and choosing how to spend her time and with whom to spend that time. Like Pokemon’s Pikachu saying “I choose you!”

I will be sixty in a few years too, so I’m also am developing the steely inner resolve that comes with the wisdom of age. I am more discerning about how I spend my days, and with whom. I am drawing firm boundaries around demands on my time. One thing I know: Time spent with Maryanne is time well spent. I choose her!

She inspires me to be a better person. I’m not Maryanne’s best friend, but I aim to be the best friend for her in certain circumstances. I hope I refill her well in some way and bring her laughter.

On her 60th birthday I asked myself, “What gift could I give to such a WOW person?” The only thing I could think of was to let her know this:

I appreciate the gift of being chosen.

Birthday cake with Limited 1959 Edition topper
A “limited edition” cake for a “limited edition” person

Birding: The uncommon but fantastic

I follow a blog written by a bird/nature enthusiast who lives in my city of Ottawa, Canada. It’s called The Pathless Wood and it is interesting.

I walk in the same wooded areas that she writes about, and I’m ashamed to say that I don’t notice even a quarter of the highlights she brings to the attention of her readers.

She wrote about an olive-sided flycatcher, for instance, a bird she described as “uncommon but fantastic.”

I didn’t even know such a bird existed, and I thought, “What if I was in the right place at the right time, and an olive-sided flycatcher alighted on a branch next to me? I wouldn’t appreciate it at all. I wouldn’t know that it was uncommon but fantastic!”

I experienced that uncomfortable feeling of being blind to something important, like when a person meets a celebrity but doesn’t recognize them, and afterwards someone says, “You know who that was, right?”

On my nature walks I could be rubbing shoulders with the bird equivalent of Tom Hanks or Helen Mirren and not even know it.

I’m not sure there’s a resolution to my problem. I have enough going on in my life (too much), so I can’t add birding to the list. I will keep reading and learning though, in the hope that in future more uncommon but fantastic things will get the appreciation they deserve.

Two birds on a post. "We may be common, but we're still fantastic." "Oh, yeah. She took our picture, didn't she?"

New and beautiful out of old and broken

Some days I feel ancient.

Some days it feels like so much of my life, so many people and events, lie on the path behind me, how much more can be ahead?

On those days, it’s helpful to stumble upon trees like these growing together on my friend’s property near Lake Huron.

A twig sprouting out of the sawed-off portion of a cedar trunk

A sprout of a completely different kind of tree is growing through the trunk of the sawed-off trunk of an old tree.

I searched from all sides and from high and low angles, and I could not find the root system for the younger twig. It is below ground, an integral part of the roots of the cedar.

The largest trunk on the original cedar was cut off—a loss that must have felt like the end. But no! Something unexpected was hiding there all along, intertwined with the roots, waiting to spring to life.

Bless that which you want: Vacation

Four people making the letters of the world love with their bodies.

According to the ancient Polynesian wisdom of Ka Huna, shamans of Hawaii use the power of words and mind to build self-esteem to heal the self, others and situations.

The wisdom says: Bless that which you want.

If we are jealous of others who received something we desire, or if we declare ourselves unworthy of receiving it, that drives away the object of our desire.

It’s impossible to bless something and be negative at the same time.

Blessings expand positive and creative energy and reflect it back to us. Blessings increase the good in our lives.

I’m taking a short vacation. I bless the mental break, the time for reading, the visits with family and friends, the swimming and the sunshine. I bless that when I return I will be rejuvenated.  

What do you want? Take some time to bless it.

Two Muskoka chairs facing each other on a lake-side dock.